Checking up on Bills' position battles

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
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PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Remember training camp last summer, when there was a true quarterback competition between EJ Manuel and Kevin Kolb?

Those were the days. With Manuel virtually entrenched as the starter entering his second season, the Buffalo Bills have surprisingly few position battles brewing as they progress through their second week of training camp.

[+] EnlargeDa'Norris Searcy
Timothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY Sports Da'Norris Searcy seems to have the upper hand in the race for the Bills' open safety spot.
How many starting spots are up for grabs? Here's our rundown:

Right guard: Coach Doug Marrone confirmed last week that there was a competition at this position. Kraig Urbik started 16 games last season, but with an influx of depth players along the offensive line this offseason his job isn't safe. His main competition is Chris Hairston, who began to see some reps with the first-team late in spring practices. Through the first eight practices of training camp, we'll peg Urbik's reps with the first team at around 70 or 80 percent. Hairston is getting some time, but it's not an even split. We'd expect Urbik to be the starter in preseason games.

Right tackle: This was our top competition of the spring but it's barely been a contest. Second-round pick Cyrus Kouandjio hasn't received any time with the first team and looks to be coming along slower than the Bills would have hoped. Marrone had praise last week for Erik Pears' play through the early part of camp, noting that Pears was healthy after apparently being banged up last season. The real competition for Pears might be seventh-round pick Seantrel Henderson, who has held up fairly well at left tackle in place of Cordy Glenn. If Glenn returns soon then Henderson could get a crack at the right tackle spot.

Third receiver: There might not be a clear-cut winner of this battle. The Bills have used a variety of receiver groupings through the first eight practices. Mike Williams, Chris Hogan, and Marquise Goodwin have all seen time alongside Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods. How each of those players are used in the regular season could be determined by the situation. T.J. Graham, who we considered part of this mix in the spring, has barely seen any time with the first-team offense. He's fighting for his job.

Weakside linebacker: This spot opened up when Kiko Alonso suffered a season-ending knee injury. Nigel Bradham has seen the most reps with the first-team defense, but we've also seen the Bills mix-and-match their personnel here. Preston Brown, Jimmy Gaines, Stevenson Sylvester, and Randell Johnson have all rotated through in different groupings. We'd still put our money on Bradham but like the third receiver spot, this could depend on the situation and the offensive style of the opponent.

Safety: This has been Da'Norris Searcy's job to lose since the spring. The Bills have almost exclusively used Aaron Williams and Searcy as their top pairing at safety, which is a notable step down from the Williams-Jairus Byrd combo from last season. The key for the Bills is not putting Searcy in a spot where offenses can expose a weakness in the defense. He's not a rangy ball-hawker like Byrd. Ideally, the Bills would like for Duke Williams to grow into a larger role, but he hasn't shown it yet in training camp. Williams and fellow second-year safety Jonathan Meeks should see plenty of time in the preseason, and they will need it.

Mike Rodak

ESPN Buffalo Bills reporter

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